Avoiding Cheating In Photography Competitions

Posted on: May 17th, 2012 by Jason

Although I tend not to enter that many competitions these days I do look out for photo comps (especially if they don’t require votes). However, photo competitions attract a fair bit of cheating. That in itself is pretty annoying, but not as annoying as a promoter who doesn’t do anything about it or when told that images amongst their entries are suspect reply that they don’t have enough time to do a little bit of background checking.

How Do Cheats Enter Photo Competitions?

I know by posting this it will potentially encourage people to do it – but hopefully it will also make more people aware that it happens!

Let’s say there’s a competition that requires you to portray the word “environment”. A quick search of Google Images and hey presto you’ve found this beautiful image of the Bolivia Salt Desert. You enter the competition!

Perhaps a promoter is looking for a place where you enjoy taking exercise? You like an area in Ireland but don’t have your own photo to hand! What do you do? Well perhaps a photo of the Green Canyon in Turkey will suffice – no one will be able to tell anyway!

In other words a quick look through Google images, an upload to a competition and you could be on track to winning a prize…. unless of course you get caught!

So What Can Promoters & Compers Do To Catch The Cheats?

Google image search may be useful for cheating, but it’s also useful for combating the problem too. From conversations with those running photo competitions not many promoters are aware that they can upload an image to Google Images and see where that image appears. In genuine cases it shouldn’t bring up any matches or a match should be easily attributed to the entrant (e.g. their Flickr account).

Bolivia Salt Desert

If we get something like the above,using our Bolivia Salt Desert example, then the promoter (or eagle eyed comper) should question whether the entrant has ownership of the photo. This kind of search takes seconds to do – although promoters seem reluctant to do it. When we informed one recently they lamented that they didn’t have time… tough! A bit of image checking is better than spending time explaining to entrants how a plagarised photo has just won a competition or explaining to a photographer why you’re breaching their copyright.

More importantly, no brand wants to be known for running a competition where cheats have won do they?

If time is a real issue then a bit of common sense is needed. Some images in photo competitions stand out a mile as being photo-shopped. If it looks too good to be true then do a little Google search. It may well be that you’ve got a fantastic entrant on your hands – at least you’ll know for sure.

But What Can Promoters Do Better?

The thing with photo competitions is that promoters can at least make life difficult for would be cheats.

For example they could require that the photo is date stamped (a lot of new cameras can do this), that the image includes their products or perhaps the image is watermarked with the entrants own copyright. On top of that when the entries are shown online the promoter should include the entrants name as minimum. Perhaps they could also include location of where the image was taken (for landscapes), how things were made (for cakes, crafts etc) and perhaps even camera details (e.g. exif data for really serious photo comps).

One promoter I spoke to this week argued that their competition was “just a bit of fun” – as though that was some kind of an excuse for allowing plagarised entries! But where’s the fun in allowing cheats to win? It’s most certainly not fun for those who follow the rules and definitely not fun for the photographers who’s work is being used.

We advise that any promoter thinking about a photo competition to take a look at Photobox and Jessops on Facebook. They both do regular photo competitions and do some of the above mentioned and for the most part do it well. Of course there will be the occasional entry that slips through the net – but hopefully picked up before the prizes are done and dusted. Learn from them and remember Google Image Search is your friend!


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